Part 4: Getting asset information to the people who need it

Getting the right information to effectively manage public assets: Lessons from local authorities.

In this Part, we discuss how the five local authorities ensure that their asset information is made available and accessible to those directly involved in managing assets and those who operate in the wider business.

Summary of our findings

The five local authorities were making improvements to how they ensured that asset information was available and accessible to those who need it, including those that make decisions and direct the management of assets, and those who have other uses for that information. They all saw benefit in, and were moving towards, a more automated integration of asset information.

Although the five local authorities ensured their asset information was made available to inform their asset planning, most had identified opportunities to improve the quality of asset information to better inform decision-making, including when best to replace their assets.

Local authorities need to ensure that asset information is available to inform decision-making

We expected the five local authorities to have appropriate ways of ensuring that asset information feeds effectively into the systems and processes that support the management of their assets and wider business activities.

Transferring information between asset management systems and processes

The five local authorities use technology solutions to ensure that asset information is transferred into systems and processes people use. All five local authorities are also using, or moving towards using, technology systems and processes that will better support the integration of asset information between systems, or parts of a system, that support the management of assets.

We were told that people in other parts of the organisation, who did not directly manage assets, use different technology systems, or parts of a system, to access and use asset information. Transferring asset information between or within different technology systems, with its integrity retained helps support effective information to be integrated throughout the organisation. Local authority staff felt that having asset information that was well integrated within their organisation helped them operate with different systems, or parts of a system, while still using what was described as "one source of asset truth". This enabled the organisation to "speak the same asset language".

Some of the five local authorities were doing "manual workarounds" to extract and transfer asset information between systems. Staff were aware of the risks and issues that could arise when data is extracted manually, such as errors that could cause inconsistent information to feed into different processes that use asset information.

Tararua District Council is confident that its current asset information system has strong technical integration capability. It considers its system to be well positioned to ensure that its estimations of the remaining useful life of assets can feed effectively into the different processes that use this information. However, the Council is working towards having better quality information about the condition of its assets before it fully uses this functionality.

Technology can support asset information to be better integrated within an organisation with different business processes only when the asset information is consistently understood within the organisation. People from Dunedin City Council and Tauranga City Council told us effective information integration means ensuring that people who follow processes relevant to assets have a consistent understanding of asset information. We agree. This helps ensure that asset information is applied consistently, day to day and in more far-reaching decisions.

Local authority staff can access the information they need

The five local authorities were at different stages of having consistent integrated information accessible for people to use in the wider business, such as those involved in financial reporting, valuations, and insurance. This largely reflected what stage each local authority was at in its implementation of new technology systems or structures.

Most of the people in the wider business used different systems, or parts of systems, from those who directly managed assets. Where technical integration of asset information between systems and processes was not as strong as local authorities required, asset information could be manually extracted as an interim measure. Each of the five local authorities saw the need to improve the integration of asset information throughout the different teams and processes that needed that information, and was working to do this.

Investing to ensure that high-quality asset information is integrated effectively into the wider organisation also helps provide decision-makers with an organisation-wide view. This wider view can support making different individual decisions that are consistent with the overall strategic direction and objectives of the organisation.

Strongly integrated asset information can support having meaningful discussions with the community. Consistently informed service delivery, infrastructure, and financial strategies help local authorities to have informed conversations with their community about the options and choices they have to address future challenges and continue to deliver essential services.

Making information available to inform asset management planning decisions

We expected the five local authorities to be making asset information available to inform planning for asset management and, in particular, for asset renewal and replacement.

By and large, the five local authorities were making their asset information available to inform long-term decision-making, though some were providing more and better information than others. Local authorities that were further progressed in making this information available used it in their predictive modelling and other software that gave them recommendations for asset planning.

At Napier City Council, we were told how better knowledge of the actual condition of its assets helps it make well-informed decisions. As a result of physical inspections and knowing the local soil conditions, Napier City Council learnt that some of its water assets were in better condition than originally thought and it was able to extend its estimate of these assets' remaining useful lives. Fact-based information such as this has provided higher confidence and will help the Council plan and budget more accurately.

In one local authority, issues with the quality of asset information resulted in the Council not using some of its information in longer-term planning. Dunedin City Council had identified issues with information gathered by its contracted asset information gatherers and decided to use theoretical and traditional information until the asset information gatherers improved the quality of information they collected. Dunedin City Council balanced the known risks of its existing and theoretical information with the more uncertain risks of using information of poorer quality. It is currently working with its contractor to improve the quality of this information to the point where it has the confidence to use it to inform longer-term planning decisions.

It is essential that local authorities have high-quality and reliable asset information to inform longer-term decisions. High quality asset information can have a direct and positive impact on the effectiveness of longer-term planning.